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BINA Beis Medrash

This week’s classes:

Sunday, July 21
Sunday Morning Beis Medrash
BINA Beis Medrash
Starts 8:00AM
Chaburah
BINA Beis Medrash
Starts 8:00PM

THE “ACHER” INSIDE OF US

The Gemara in Chagigah, Daf 15b (Bavli) retells the following story:


The Sages taught: There was once an incident involving Acḥer, who was riding on a horse on Shabbat, and Rebbe Meir was walking behind him to learn Torah from him. After a while, Acḥer said to him: Meir, turn back, for I have already estimated and measured according to the steps of my horse that the Shabbat boundary ends here, and you may therefore venture no further. Rebbe Meir said to him: You, too, return to the correct path. He said to him: But have I not already told you that I have already heard behind the dividing curtain: “Return, rebellious children,” apart from Acḥer?


The Yerushalmi, in Chagigah, 2a, expounds on this story in further detail:


Rebbe Meir was giving a shiur to the Beit Midrash of Teveria, when he was informed by his students that his Rav, Eliysha, was passing by horse. Acher said “Stop Meir, we have arrived at the Tchum of Shabbas”, and RebbeMeir asked, “How do you know”?


This fascinating encounter described by the Gemara is a snippet of the tragic relationship of Rav Eliysha benAvuya, and his Talmud, Rebbe Meir. Rav Eliysha ben Avuya, who was later nicknamed “Acher” – “Other”, became a heretic and gave up on his Torah and Judaism after witnessing several theologically troubling events in the parades (Chagigah 15a), the upper spiritual realm which dealt with the loftiest secrets of Torah.


In the above story, Acher relates he “heard behind the curtain” a Bat Kol, a voice from heaven which claimed that all Jewish people could do Teshuva, except for him. How are we to understand this Bat Kol? How do we understand the mechanism of Teshuva after hearing the heavens outlawing of Acher? Surely even Acher, who denounced his Judaism and went off the derech, has a way back to Hashem?


To understand this Bat Kol, and Acher’s irreversible actions, we have two main interpretations:


Firstly, Tosafot understands this voice from heaven to be literal. Tosafot on Chagigah 15b explains that Acher was murderous, and his actions were so far-reaching and too far beyond the threshold of sin for Teshuva to be possible. In a similar vein to Pharoah, who’s heart was hardened by Hashem (Exodus 7:3), Acher lost his privilege of free-will, and his heretical ways became irreversible. Albeit it that the Rambam states “Even one who was wicked all his days, and does Teshuva in his final moments, his wickedness is not remembered” (HilchotTeshuva 1:3), Acher was an exception, and by Divine decree he was shut out from the gates of Teshuva.


On the other hand, Rabbeinu Chananel explains: “Chas Veshalom, that Acher should face such a judgment. Rather, the Bat Kol was there only to convey to Acher that he had a master above him”. Here, we understand the Bat Kol to be a warning to Acher, a cry from heaven to remind Acher that he was once Eliysha, a G-d-fearing Rabbi who was subservient to his Master, his Father in Heaven.


I would like to suggest a third opinion, one that is less mainstream, but incredibly pertinent and relevant to us all, particularly in a generation where Cancel Culture is prevalent, and forgiveness of one’s mistakes is seldom celebrated.


Rav Yehuda Amital zt’’l, the founding Rosh Yeshiva of Har Etzion, explains the following:


“One of the problems of the sinner is that they view themselves as worthless, and do not grasp the great power they possess. Also, Eliysha ben Avuya thought that he cannot return and do Teshuva. He “heard” a voice from”“behind the divine curtain”, but no one except for himself heard this voice! He convinced himself that this was reality.


Strikingly, Rav Amital in his Sicha explains that there was no Bat Kol. It was self-induced, a self-fulfilling prophecy that only Acher believed. It is obvious to us that Eliysha ben Avuya became known as Acher because he viewed himself as the Other, a different person to who he was previously, without a right to return to his faith, with noway back from his sin. Acher’s downfall was his inability to recognise the power of his free-will, the power he had to do Teshuva.


So, how is the tragic story of Acher relevant? How can we make it a launchpad for growth?


I believe we all have an Acher inside of us, a deep self-critical voice that says “I am who I am. I used to be frum, I used to be better, but now I am not. I am someone else, I am an ‘other’ “. This is a continual voice that we battle with daily, and a huge obstacle to our Teshuva succeeding.


We cannot give in to the voice of Acher. The Rambam famously states:


“A person should not entertain the thesis held by the fools …. that, at the time of a person’s creation, The HolyOne, blessed be He, decrees whether they will be righteous or wicked. This is untrue. Each person is fit to be righteous like Moses, our teacher”.


The power of Teshuva is so great, that if one does Teshuva out of love, they can “turn their sins to merits” (Yoma86b), and when one cries the songs of Teshuva in Viduyi, Hashem cries back “I am Hashem who had mercy on you before you sinned, and I am the same Hashem who has mercy on you now after you have sinned” (Rashion Exodus 34:6).


May it be that we enter into the Yamim Noraim with an incredible self-belief that our Teshuva will work and that we have the power to change, the free-will to grow, and the motivation to become the Jew we always wished we were. Our Avodah is to shut out the Acher from within and to reach our truest potential.


Chag Sameach.


 


~ Gidi Fine

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